pro cycling

Team Ineos and the price of fun

Team Sky used to be fun.

Not fun in the classic sense – the spreadsheets and general relentlessness made sure of that – but in a we’ve-only-just-been-invented-and-now-we’re-going-to-win-le-Tour kind of way. They were underdogs. They seemed overly ambitious and destined to fall short.

Y’know…fun.

Then they were rubbish for a bit – still fun. Then they did win the Tour, with a rider with massive sideburns and a nice side-line in aloof charisma, which was a tremendous amount of fun. But that turned out to be peak fun.

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From there it got more business-like.

They got a bit narky and fell out with each other. The whiter-than-white cleaner-than-clean began to wear thin. Some of us yearned for a bit less corporate-speak.

They acquired the best riders, paid them well, and took a vice-like grip on the Tour de France; at the time of writing they’ve snaffled seven of the last eight. In 2019 they signed a deal to become Team Ineos which, while there’s no evidence of the riders being personally responsible for the actual fracking, is not a good look.

Their squad, for 2020, will include the following:

Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas, Michal Kwiatkowski, Richard Carapaz, Ivan Sosa, Egan Bernal. Oh, and as of today, 9th December 2019, Rohan Dennis. Time Trial World Champion.

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Four separate Grand Tour winners; a former World Champion and multiple stage race, one-day classic, and Grand Tour stage winner; the best time triallist in the world by a country mile; the next great Colombian superstar since the last one (who they also have); the list goes on.

I understand cold, hard economic fact. I have a rough working knowledge of capitalism. I know that the pro-cycling business model is precarious and revolves around willing sponsors and media exposure. I am not, at the time of writing, suggesting revolution.

I am suggesting that packing a pro cycling team with the best talent money can buy and paying them well to be relentless is not fun. In fact it’s serious. Clinical, calculating, and unromantic.

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But they’re only doing their job. They can hardly justify doing a little less well, and being a little less competent, in the name of romance. The petrochemical industry would not stand for it.

It’s a results business, those of you with harder heads might say, why don’t you just roll up your yoga mat, finish your green tea, and bugger off back to happy la-la land, you might continue, slightly unreasonably.

But I’m a romantic. I’d still rather watch Thibaut Pinot agonisingly fail than Egan Bernal clinically succeed.

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